The Lafayette Parish School System and its partners recently received a $13.2 million, seven-year grant to continue efforts to encourage middle schoolers to prepare for college.

The federal Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, or GEAR UP, targets low-income students in middle school and provides them services through high school to encourage them to pursue a college education.

The annual grant, which is renewable over the next seven years, is nearly $1.9 million. The school system previously was awarded a six-year GEAR UP grant that recently concluded.

This grant covers a seven-year span, allowing the program to track students and continue to provide services through students’ first year of college. The grant will target about 2,200 sixth- and seventh-grade students at Acadian, Paul Breaux, Carencro, Judice, Lafayette and Scott middle schools.

“The key is to do whatever we can to get them from middle school to high school academically. Then, get them from high school to postsecondary,” said Burnell LeJeune, the school system’s director of career and technical education. “When we say college, it could be two-year, four-year. It could be technical college. We want to provide them activities that will challenge them academically, that will make for more meaningful learning experiences.”

Those experiences are offered with the assistance of partners such as South Louisiana Community College and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, LeJeune said.

The grant will fund positions tied to GEAR UP: a project director, four college and career coaches and a partnership and data management coordinator to develop community partnerships and help track students’ progress.

Those college and career coaches will follow the sixth- and seventh-graders as they progress to high school.

As part of the new grant, professional development will be provided to teachers and principals at the targeted schools. Students also will have opportunities to explore their interests through specialized camps in robotics, math and engineering, LeJeune said.

Scholars from the Smithsonian Institution will visit schools to offer student workshops and enrichment exercises to pique students’ interest in the sciences. Similar opportunities were provided to students as part of the prior GEAR UP grant.

The new positions funded for the grant will be introduced to the School Board at its meeting Wednesday with approval to advertise for the positions on the agenda for the board’s Nov. 5 meeting. LeJeune said he expects to have the grant positions filled in time to launch the program in the schools in January.

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.